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Saturday, 15 July 2017

'Simple Simon met a pieman . . .'

A fool and his money are soon parted. This is especially true of a fool who loves pies. It’s why I shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a food market. This little lot:
A packet of wild boar bacon (dry and disappointingly  tasteless)
A packet of traditional pig bacon. (Nice, one very happy fool.)
Four cheeses. Cheddar. Unpasteurised. (Hit the tastebuds running)
And five pies ranging from Chicken, ham and leek, Steak and Kidney, Venison, Beef in wine, and Wild Game pie.  I would still have been buying but someone with more sense pulled me back.

I love pies. Every kind of pie, though I draw the line at what I call the ‘adventurous pie.’ One that I still dream about we bought from our local butchers in Aintree and also local chip shops. They were small and round in hot water pastry. They contained a large dollop of peppery minced meat swimming in hot gelatine, and they were heaven. If anyone knows where I can buy them, please send me a line – better still a pie. *

The adventurous pie is an entirely different kettle of fish. They’re a bit like the previous mixed metaphor. They’re just wrong. I’m talking about pies like Beef and Stilton and worst of all – curry pies. Wrong wrong wrong, like Saris in Iceland, roast pork in Mecca, Gazpacho in Saskatoon, and Mars Bars deep-fried. There are also curry pasties, and they’re pretty foul too.

But enough of this, I have a fridge full of pies to get through and four solid weeks in the gym

*I’m wondering whether they were called Scotch pies but googling it, it seems they have gravy in them – not the hot succulent, gelatinous meat I remember. The search continues.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Strong tea, trolleys and weird women.

I only recount this dream to illustrate a point. I was with my wife in a large cafeteria echoing with the clinking of crockery and cups. Our table was an exception, for we had no cups. We had no tea. And we were thirsty. I stood up to investigate.

At the far end of this place of pine and polished steel, a tea urn gleamed, and I headed towards it.

Damn thing was empty. Looked like it had been empty for years.

I sensed my wife’s roaring thirst catching up on me. A waiter dressed in green tweed sailed by and ignored me until I wrenched him by the arm. ‘We want tea!’ I said with some force.
 He pointed to another tea urn still farther away. ‘That’s bloody ridiculous,’ I said, boiling with fury and rage . . .

 . . .  even as I drifted into consciousness, and realised I could just roll out of bed and drink all the tea I could possibly want. But the dream held me back. I wanted blood . . . and tea. This fellow in tweed was not going to get away with his insolence. It was a classic example of Dream vs Reality. Rage vs a teabag just a moment away. Reality overcame insanity—just—and I staggered into it and all the tea I could drink. 

But sometimes dreams invade reality and the borders between the two become blurred.

Was I dreaming when I read a notice in an upmarket supermarket (Waitrose) exhorting customers not to wheel their trolleys into the toilets? And I’m still not sure about another incident on a long and wearisome journey.

I was dozing on a National Express bus from Liverpool to Monmouth, when someone hissed loudly in my  ear. “It’s disgusting. May the Lord have mercy on their souls.”

I opened my eyes and a woman in green tweed stared into them. “I shouldn’t be telling you—a gentleman like you?”

I must have looked puzzled.

She brought her face closer. “Two women kissing. Just walked past them now. Front of the bus. Driver should never allow it.”

The woman was stocky and grey, middle-aged and with the intensity of a witch or a Welsh non-conformist. I struggled to make some kind of reply. Was she dreaming or was I? Was I still in the C21st?

“Obscene. I’ll pray for their immortal souls,” she muttered before walking on to the back of the bus.

I tried to go back to sleep still not entirely convinced it wasn’t a dream. Sleep wouldn’t come. The picture of women passionately kissing just six rows up front, put paid to all thoughts of sleep. The damage was done. Whenever the bus stopped I looked up to see who these mysterious creatures were—discreetly mind, in case the woman behind might feel obliged to pray for my immortal soul too.

No one left the bus before Monmouth, and I stood intrigued but discreetly so. I cast my eyes this way and that as I made for the door.

The woman was blind, opinionated but blind. The couple that had provoked such Godly wrath were most definitely heterosexual: a comely woman in black leather and jeans and her boyfriend whose hair was longer than hers.

I leapt of the bus eager to be home with a pot of strong tea and a bathroom with not a trolley in sight.


Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Past is a foreign country; they do things differently there

The title is a quote from L P Hartley’s ‘The Go-Between’ and places like Ledbury (Monmouth for that matter) are rich in glimpses and hints. Last week's post showed some of its wonderful buildings and streets. This post focuses on its equally wonderful interiors. Below is the interior of St Michaels and All Saints. It's worth focusing on the altar picture and stained glass. The church is huge and illustrates the wealth of the medieval town.

Next a school room:
The pictures sent a shiver of recognition running through me. As a six year old boy I sat at such a desk,  inkwell and a dribbly nibbed pen to hand. A watchful nun prowled to ensure we didn't make too many blotches and blobs. Copperplate stood little chance in our crabbed hands, and fortunately the practice was discontinued a few years later. God does listen to our prayers.

The instructions (for schools without nuns and small sticks)

The results

Below are blackboard 'sums' I dimly remember. Just to illustrate the continuity of past and present, school exercise books in the 1950's and 1960's still had arithmetic tables and imperial measures on their back page. In theory we'd have had no problem with these Victorian 'sums'. I confess though, I never did figure out what a rood was, though it sounded good on the tongue.

A smoking chimney

The smoking chimney extended the entire width of the house. Meat was hung in layers stretching from top to bottom, depending on the cuts of meat and their stages of curing. The fire was fuelled by Hawthorne and applewood for flavouring

A section of wall timber. Bear in mind its solidity and weight

And its construction!

House frames were constructed of local oak. The frames were cut in the carpenter’s shop, then each individual part were numbered (Roman numerals just to make things difficult) so they could be matched up on site. When this was done, the frame was dismantled, transported and reassembled using the marks to match up the parts correctly. The parts were then secured by wooden pegs and the walls raised. In the exhibit they have what looks like a 'toy,' but one that's highly instructive. Each of these beams are linked to stress points that support each other in sequence. Try and assemble them in the wrong order and the whole thing collapses. 

Imagine playing the same game with beams the size of small trees. As the title of this post reminds us. 'They do things differently there, and whether it's copperplate, measuring in bushels and ells or smoking meat in huge chimneys it behoves us to have some humility. 

*The timber pictured is dated 1476
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Friday, 16 June 2017

The stuff on our doorway: Ledbury

In 690 AD the beautiful and ruthless Wu Zetian became the first empress of China. and the market town of Ledbury in Herefordshire was founded. It was mentioned in the Domesday book and has a church dated from the C12th. 

St Michaels and All Angels Church

The original church has been extended several times. For example the tower was built around 1230 and the Spire added in 1733. If you look closely at the picture you can see that the tower – uniquely for Herefordshire – is not connected to the main body of the church.

Wandering around. you stop at building after building: The Feather’s Hotel, a C16 Drovers inn, 

a Butchers moved piece by piece and reassembled after complaints about the smell. It’s now a museum. You walk down wonderful streets with equally wonderful toilets, glimpse lanes you could write stories about.

Toilet entrance to the left

There were four battles of Ledbury, a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War, and some notable people were born here, William Langland the C14th poet, Elizabeth Browning, the Victorian poet, John Masefield an inter-war Poet Laureate – notice a pattern here? I could continue. William Wordsworth wrote a sonnet about St Catherine of Ledbury, though the pattern is perhaps spoilt by Elizabeth Hurley alsol from Ledbury who has yet to write a poem.

If I may end on two curiosities:
The shoe bath for the poor, wheeled from house to house on a trolley. There was a tap on the toe of the boot, which I’ve masterfully left out. At each house some water was let out, leaving space for a ‘top up’. There are apparently only three examples of a shoe bath in the entire country.

The kettle is an ironmonger’s sign, originally hanging outside the building and a danger to both man and beast. There was little room for Health and Safety in the C17th.

Part two next week focusing on interiors  but excluding the toilet.